Sports Corner

First base with Roberto Kelly

Kelly keeps watch on first base for the Giants PHOTO: Kirk Davis

Roberto Kelly is the first base coach for the San Francisco Giants. He’s held the job for the past six years, which includes, to the delight of Giants fans, two world championships.

Kelly had a way-above-average, 14-year career as a major leaguer, playing for the Yankees, Reds, Braves, Expos, Dodgers, Twins, Mariners, and Rangers. Numbers etched in the record books include a .290 lifetime batting average, 124 homers, and 235 steals. He was an All-Star for the Yankees in ’92 and for the Reds in ’93. Last winter Kelly managed the Panama team in the World Baseball Classic. Panama was eliminated by Brazil in an exciting game in Panama City.

Kelly instructs Giants on the art of stealing bases. Last year in Giantsland, Angel Pagan led the team with 29 stolen bases and was caught seven times; Gregor Blanco stole 26 and was nabbed six times; steroid-user Melky Cabrera, and World-Series-winning-run scorer Ryan Theriot each stole 13 bases last year, but both are not back with the Giants; Brandon Belt stole 12.

Looking to possibly utilize every pair of legs, Kelly notes, “Hunter [Pence] wants to steal more bases. He’s capable of doing it. Pence is in good shape. He’s a little more quick. He worked on his quickness over the winter.”

When it was pointed out that Pence was aggressively flying around the bases in spring training games, and that Pence seems to be either completely healed from last year’s leg injuries, or crazy, Kelly replied, “Maybe both.” Hunter Pence’s high is 18 stolen bases with Houston in 2010; but he was nabbed nine times that year: a poor ratio.

Like a thoroughbred trainer assessing a horse or a choreographer studying a ballerina, Roberto Kelly studies opposing pitchers. When a Giants hitter gets to first base, Kelly begins his analysis. After the pitcher comes to the required momentary stasis before delivering a pitch, Kelly makes note of when their front shoulder moves, when their knee bends, when their heel rises. Each of those can be the starting gun for a runner taking off for second.

Kelly notes that “Blanco and Pagan almost always have the green light,” meaning that they are usually allowed to steal without having to wait for a signal from the bench via third base coach Tim Flannery. The other players must wait for the signal to steal — the rest of the team doesn’t have the green light.

Of course, you don’t want to send the slower players on a mission to get gunned down at second base. Kelly looks for a ratio of success in “four out of five” attempts.

But stealing bases is just one aspect of the game. Even if someone isn’t a base stealer, he can still take off for second base or third as part of a hit-and-run. He can take an extra base on an outfield hit. The Giants work hard on these finer points of the game. It is part of the reason they have been champions of the world the past two out of three seasons — and why Giants fans are eager for more victory.

If the Giants continue in their winning ways, with hitting coach Hensley Meulens receiving scads of attention as the manager of plucky Team Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, Giants fans must brace themselves for the departure of one or more of the coaches for vacancies in the managerial ranks of the other 29 Major League teams. Calm, steady, somewhat-mysterious Bruce Bochy has assembled his band of coaches, and they have honed the team into champions.

This group of coaches cannot stay together forever, so let’s enjoy them while we can.

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Steve Hermanos is the author of the new book, Orange Waves of Giants! The 2012 Championship Season. It is available at Books, Inc. on Chestnut Street at the front register. E-mail: [email protected]